Three Men

by Maxim Gorky

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Chapter XIX

The following days were spent by Lunev and Tatiana Vlassyevna in arranging together the details of the new undertaking. She knew everything and spoke of everything with as much certainty as if she had dealt in fancy wares all her life. Ilya listened with amazement, smiled and was silent. He wanted to find a suitable place to make a beginning as soon as possible, and he agreed to all Tatiana's proposals, without considering their significance at all.

At last everything was settled, and it appeared that Tatiana had a suitable shop ready chosen. It was arranged exactly as Ilya had imagined to himself, in a clean street, small and neat, with a room at the back. Ilya knew the shop; there had formerly been a milk shop there, and he had often visited it with his wares. Everything went splendidly, down to the least detail, and Ilya was triumphant, energetic, and happy. He visited his friends in the hospital. Pavel met him, cheerful for once. "To-morrow I'm to be discharged!" he explained with joyful excitement, even before he answered Ilya's greeting. "I've had a letter from Vyerka. She grumbles, says I insulted her, little devil!"

His eyes shone and his cheeks reddened. He could not keep still a moment, but shuffled with his slippers on the ground and flourished with his hands.

"Take care of yourself," said Ilya. "Be careful."

"Of course. I shall simply say: 'Mam'selle Vyera Kapitanovna, will you marry me? Please! No?—then there's a knife in your heart!'" A convulsive shudder passed over his face.

"Come, come!" said Ilya, laughing. "What, threaten her with a knife straight away?"

"No—believe me, I've had enough of it. I can't live without her. And she too; she's no good without me; she's had enough of her beastly life. She must be sick of it. To-morrow it shall be settled between us, this way or that."

Lunev looked at his friend's face and thought: "In a mood like this he might kill her." Suddenly a clear, simple idea came into his head. He blushed, then smiled. "Pashutka, think, I've made my fortune," he began after a pause, and told his friend shortly what had happened to him. Pavel listened, sighed with bent head, and said:

"Ye—es, you are lucky!"


"Rather! Devil take it!"

"Really, I'm ashamed of my luck with you, speaking quite honestly."

"Thank you!" said Pavel, with a dull laugh.

"Do you know?" said Ilya slowly, "I'm not boasting. I mean it. I am ashamed, by God!"

Pavel glanced at him without speaking, and hung his head lower.

"And I'll say something to you. We've hung together in bad times. Let us share the good times."

"H—m—m!" growled Pavel. "I've heard that happiness can't be shared, any more than a woman's love."

"Oh, yes, it can! Just you find out all that is wanted to set up as a well-sinker—instruments and so on—and how much it costs, and I'll find the money."

"Wha—at!" cried Pavel, looking at his friend incredulously.

Lunev seized his hand with a lively gesture, and pressed it.

"Really, you silly! I'll find it for you."

But it needed a long conversation to assure Pavel of the seriousness of his intentions. Pavel kept shaking his head, growling, and saying: "No, it'll come to nothing."

Finally Lunev succeeded in convincing him. Then Pashka embraced him, and said, in a voice full of emotion:

"Thank you, brother! You'll pull me out of the pit. Now, listen to me. A workshop of my own—that's not for me. Give me some money, and I'll take Vyerka and go away from here. It will be easier for you, and you won't need to give me so much, and it'll suit me better. I'll go off somewhere and get an assistant's job in a workshop."

"That's ridiculous," said Ilya. "It's much better to be your own master."

"What sort of a master should I be?" cried Pavel. "I don't know how to deal with workmen like a master. No, a business of my own, and all that goes with it, is not to my taste. I know the sort of fellow a man must be for that, it isn't in my line. You can't turn a goat into a pig."

Ilya did not understand clearly Pashka's conception of a master, but it pleased him and drew him still nearer to his comrade. He looked at him full of joy and love, and said jestingly:

"True! You are very like a goat. Just about as thin. Do you know whom you remind me of? Perfishka, the cobbler. Well, then, we'll meet to-morrow, and then I'll give you the money to make a start, till you get a job. And now I'll have a look at Jakov."

"Agreed, and thank you, brother!"

"How do you get on now with Jakov?"

"Same as before; we can't hit it off," said Gratschev laughing.

"He's an unlucky fellow. It's not easy to deal with him," said Ilya thoughtfully.

"Ah, we've most of us something to put up with," answered Pavel, and shrugged his shoulders. "He always seems to me not quite all there, half silly. Well, I'm off."

"Good-bye, then."

And when Ilya had already left him, he called after him once more from the passage:

"Thank you, brother!"

Ilya nodded to him with a smile. He found Jakov quite sorrowful and cast down. He lay on his bed, his face upturned to the ceiling, looking up with wide-open eyes, and did not notice Ilya's approach.

"Nikita Jegarovitch's gone to another ward," he said gloomily.

"That's a mercy," answered Lunev. "He really looked too terrible, and then he said such odd things! God be with him!" Jakov looked at him reproachfully, but said nothing.

"Getting on?" asked Ilya.

"Ye—es," answered Jakov with a sigh. "I mayn't even be ill as long as I want. Yesterday father was here again. He's bought another house. He says he's going to open another inn, and all that'll be on my head."

Ilya wanted to speak of his own success, but something restrained him.

The spring sun shone gaily through the windows and the yellow walls of the hospital seemed still more yellow. In the bright light, the paint showed many spots and gaps. Two patients were sitting on their beds, silently playing cards, quite absorbed in their game. A tall thin man, with his bandaged head bent down, walked noiselessly up and down the ward. All was quiet, save for an occasional smothered cough, and the shuffling of the patients' slippers as they walked in the corridor.

Jakov's yellow face seemed lifeless and his dull eyes had a troubled expression.

"Oh, I wish I were dead!" he said in his dry, creaking voice. "When I lie here I say to myself, 'it must be interesting to die.' Up there things are very different—so different, that no one has ever seen, no noise, everything is easy to understand and bright and clear." His voice sank lower, became more muffled. "There are kind angels there; they can explain everything to you, and answer all your questions—the angels——"

He was silent and began to blink his eyes, watching the pale reflection of the sun rays play on the ceiling.

"Do you know——?" began Lunev.

Jakov interrupted him at once.

"Haven't you seen Mashutka?"


"Ah! you—you ought to have gone to see her long ago."

"I forgot. I can't remember everything."

"You must remember with your heart."

Lunev was embarrassed and said nothing. A little man on crutches wearing a moustache with pointed ends, hobbled in out of the corridor, and said in a hoarse, hissing voice to the tall man with the bandaged head:

"Schurka has not come again, the rascal."

Jakov looked at him, sighed and threw his head backwards and forwards on the pillow restlessly.

"Nikita Jegarovitch will die, and he doesn't want to,—the surgeon told me, he must die, and I want to die, and I can't. I shall get well again and go behind the counter, and drink brandy and so I go down."

His lips lengthened into a melancholy smile.

"To endure this life, a man needs an iron body and an iron heart, and he must live like all the rest, without thinking, without conscience."

Ilya detected in Jakov's words something hostile and cold, and his brow wrinkled.

"And I'm a glass between stones," Jakov continued, "if I turn, there's a smash."

"You grumble far too much," said Lunev carelessly.

"And what about you?" asked Jakov.

Ilya turned away and did not speak. Then observing that Jakov showed no signs of going on, he said thoughtfully:

"It's hard for us all. Look at Pavel, for instance."

"I don't like him," said Jakov, and made a grimace.

"Why not?"

"Oh! Just I don't like him."

"Well, I do."

"I don't care."

"H'm—yes—well, I must be off."

Jakov held out his hand in silence, and then implored, in a tearful, entreating voice:

"Do find out about Mashutka, will you? for Christ's sake!"

"Yes. I will," said Ilya.

It disturbed and worried him to listen to Jakov's eternal complaints, and he felt relieved when he got away from him. But the entreaty to find out about Masha roused a certain feeling of shame in him for his conduct towards Perfishka's daughter, and he determined to look up Matiza, as she was certain to know how Mashutka was taking to her new life. Like all the people in Petrusha's house, he knew that Matiza used to wash the floors every Saturday at the house of Ehrenov, receiving a quarter-rouble for the task, and also for granting more personal favours. Ilya took the road towards Filimonov's tavern, and his soul was full of thoughts of his future. It seemed to smile sweetly on him, and lost in his fancies, he passed the tavern without noticing, and when he discovered his mistake felt no inclination to turn back. He went on right out of the town; the fields stretched away in front of him, bounded far off by the dark wall of the forest. The sun was setting; its rosy reflection gleamed on the tender green of the turf. Ilya strode forward with head high and looked up to the sky, where purple clouds stood almost motionless, flaming in the sun's rays. He felt at ease, wandering thus aimlessly; every step forward, every breath awakened a new thought. He imagined himself rich and mighty and with the power to ruin Petrusha Filimonov, in his dream he had brought him to beggary, and Petrusha stood before him weeping, but he addressed the suppliant:

"Have compassion, should I? And you, have you ever had compassion on a soul? Have you not maltreated your son, and led my uncle into sin? Have you not looked down on me and despised me? In your accursed house no one has ever been happy, no one has ever known joy. Your house is rotten through and through, a trap for men, a prison for those that live in it."

Petrusha stood there, shivering and groaning with fear, lamenting like a beggar and Ilya thundered on at him:

"I will burn your house, for it brings misery to all who dwell in it, and do you go out in the world and beg forgiveness from all that you have wronged; go, wander till the day of your death, and then die of hunger, like a dog!"

The evening twilight had fallen on the fields, the forest rose in the distance like a thick dark wall, like a mountain range. A little bat flitted noiselessly through the air like a dark speck, seeming to sow the darkness. Far off on the river was heard the beating noise of a steamboat's paddles; it was as though somewhere in the distance a monstrous bird were wheeling, making the air tremble with mighty strokes of its wings. Lunev remembered all the people who had opposed him on his way through life, and haled them all without mercy before his judgment seat. A pleasant sense of relief came to him, and as he strode alone through the fields, wrapped now in darkness, he began to sing softly. Suddenly the odour of rubbish and decay filled the air. He stopped singing; but the odour had only pleasant associations for him. He had reached the town rubbish-heap, in the narrow valley where he had so often searched with Jeremy.

The stench seemed to him more penetrating and suffocating than in his childhood.

The vision of the old rag-picker rose in his memory, and he glanced round to find in the twilight the spot where the old man used to rest with him. But he could not find it; evidently it was buried under new mountains of refuse and rubbish. He sighed, and felt that there was a part of his soul smothered beneath the refuse of life.

"If only I hadn't killed that man; then I should want nothing." The thought flashed through his brain; but immediately from his heart came another, answering: "What has that man to do with my life? He is only my misfortune, not my sin."

Suddenly there was a slight rustling, a little dog slipped past Ilya's feet, and fled, whimpering softly. Ilya shuddered; he felt as though a part of this darkness of night had taken life and then vanished again, groaning.

"It's all the same," he thought. "Even without that, there'd be no peace in my heart. How many injuries I have endured; how many more I have seen others bear! Once the heart is wounded, it never ceases to feel pain."

He paced slowly along the edge of the valley. His feet sank in the dust. He could hear the wood-shavings and pieces of paper rustle and crackle as he walked. An open part of the ground, not yet encumbered with rubbish, led away into the valley like a narrow tongue of land. He went to the end of it, and there sat down. Here the air was fresher, and as his eyes travelled along the gully, they rested far off on the steely ribbon of the river. The lights of invisible vessels glimmered on the water, which seemed as still as ice, and one light swayed, like a red speck, in the air. Another glowed steadily, green and foreboding, without rays; and at his feet, full of mist, the wide throat of the valley seemed itself like the bed of a stream, wherein black air-waves rolled noiselessly. Deep melancholy fell on Ilya's heart. He looked down and thought, "A moment ago I felt full of courage, light, and happy, and now it's all gone again. Why does life drive a man on and on against his will, where he has no desire to go? Everything in life is so oppressive and heavy, full of injustice, full of perplexity! Perhaps Jakov is right—men must first of all understand themselves, how they live and by what laws?"

He remembered how strange, almost hostile, Jakov had been towards him to-day, and he grew more sorrowful as he remembered. Suddenly there was a noise in the valley, a mass of earth had loosened and rolled down. The damp night wind breathed on Ilya's face; he looked up to the sky. The stars burned shyly, and over the wood the great red ball of the moon heaved slowly up, like a huge, pitiless eye. And like the bat through the twilight, dark images and memories fluttered through Ilya's soul. They came and went without solving the riddles that oppressed him, and denser and heavier grew the darkness over his heart.

"Men rob and torment and strangle one another, and no one dreams of making life easier for his fellows, but each watches only for a chance to fight his way out and rest in a peaceful corner. I, too, am seeking for such a corner, and where is the Truth and Reality and Steadfastness in this life?"

He sat a long time there, thinking, looking now at the sky, now at the valley. All was still in the fields. The moonlight looking into the dark gully, showed its clefts and the bushes on its slopes, that threw vague shadows on the ground. The sky was pure and clear, nothing showed but the moon and stars. A cold shiver ran through Ilya, he got up and went slowly to the town, whose lights gleamed in the distance. He had no further wish to think at all. His breast was now filled with cold indifference.

He reached home late, and stood thoughtfully before the door, hesitating to ring. The windows were dark already. Evidently his landlord had gone early to rest. He disliked to disturb Tatiana Vlassyevna so late, for she always saw to the door herself; but he had to get in. He pulled the bell gently. The door opened almost immediately, and the slender form of Tatiana appeared, dressed in white.

"Shut the door quickly," she said, in a strange voice. "It is cold; I've hardly anything on. My husband's not at home."

"I'm so sorry to be late," murmured Ilya.

"Yes, you are late. Where have you been?"

Ilya closed the door and turned round to answer, and suddenly felt her close to him; she did not move, but nestled closer; he could not give way, the door was at his back. Then suddenly she laughed—a soft, trembling laugh. Lunev put his hands tenderly on her shoulders; he shook with excitement and longing to embrace her. Then all at once she straightened herself, laid her slender warm arms round his neck, and said in a ringing voice:

"Why do you wander abroad in the night? Why? You can be happy nearer home—for a long time you might have been—my dearest, my beautiful, strong boy!"

As if in a dream, Ilya felt for her lips and swayed beneath the convulsive embrace of the slender body; she clung to his breast like a cat, and kissed him again and again. He caught her in his strong arms and bore her away, carrying his burden as easily as though he trod on air.

In the morning Ilya woke with trouble in his heart.

"How can I look Kirik in the face?" he thought, and shame was added to the anxiety that the thought of the inspector aroused in him.

"If only I had quarrelled with him, or didn't like him. But to injure him, and so deeply, without any cause——" he thought with fear in his heart, and a feeling of disgust arose in him for Tatiana. He felt that Kirik was certain to find out his wife's unfaithfulness, and he could not imagine what would happen.

"How she fell on me, as if she were starving!" he thought, in restless, painful doubt; and yet felt, too, a pleasing sense of gratified vanity. This was no "tradesman's darling," as he used to call Olympiada in his thoughts, but a woman, respected by all the world—an educated, pretty married woman.

"There must be something special about me," his vanity whispered to him. "It's too bad—too bad! But I'm not made of stone, and I couldn't turn her away."

He was young in fact, and his fancy was full of the woman's caresses. Besides his practical mind saw involuntarily several advantages that might arise from this new relationship. But close on the heels of these ideas, like a dark cloud, came other gloomy thoughts.

"Now I'm in a corner again. Did I want it? I respected her! I never had an evil thought about her; and now it's happened like this."

Then again, all the disturbance and contradiction in his soul was covered by the joyful thought that soon now his sheltered, clean life would begin. But to the end the painful, stabbing thought persisted:

"It would have been better without this."

He stayed in bed, pondering, till Avtonomov went to his duties. He heard the inspector say to his wife, smacking his lips:

"Let me have meat pasties for dinner, Tanya. Take a little more pork, and then just brown them a little, till they look like tiny little sucking pigs on the plate—you know; and just a little pepper with them, my dear, the way I like it. Then I'll bring you some marmalade, shall I?"

"Now, go along! go along! As if I didn't know what you like!" said his wife tenderly.

"And now, my darling, my little Tanya, give me one more kiss!"

Lunev shuddered. It all seemed to him horrible and ridiculous.

"Tchik! tchik!" cried Avtonomov as he kissed his wife, and she laughed. As soon as she had shut the door behind him, she danced into Ilya's room, and cried:

"Kiss me quick—I've no time."

"You've just kissed your husband," said Ilya moodily.

"Wha—at? Eh? Aha! He's jealous!" she cried, delighted, then sprang up and drew the window curtain.

"Jealous!" she said. "That's so nice! Jealous men are always passionate lovers."

"I didn't say it out of jealousy."

"Don't talk!" she commanded, and put her hand on his lips. Then, when she had been kissed enough, she looked at Ilya, with a smile, and could not keep from saying:

"Well, you're a bold fellow—a downright daredevil—to carry on like this under the husband's nose."

Her greenish eyes sparkled impudently, and she cried:

"Oh, it's quite a common thing, not in the least unusual! Do you suppose there are many women true to their husbands? Only the ugly ones and the sick ones—a pretty woman always wants to enjoy herself and have a little romance."

During the whole morning she instructed Ilya on this point, told him all sorts of stories of wives who were untrue to their husbands. In her red blouse, with her skirts tucked up, and her sleeves rolled above her elbows, supple and light, she danced about the kitchen, preparing the pasties for her husband, and chattering all the time in her clear, ringing voice:

"A husband!—d'you think a wife must be always content with him? The husband can sometimes be very disagreeable, even if you love him; and then he never thinks twice if he has a chance to be false to his wife. So it's dull for a wife, too, to think of nothing all her life but—my husband, my husband, my husband."

Ilya listened, as he drank his tea, which seemed to have a bitter taste. In this woman's speech there was something defiant, unpleasantly provocative, that was new to him. Involuntarily he remembered Olympiada, the deep voice, the quiet movements, and the glowing words that had power to grip his heart. For the rest Olympiada was a woman of no great education, who might have been the wife of a small tradesman, but even because of that she was simpler in her shamelessness. Ilya answered Tatiana's pleasantries with a slight laugh, and had to force himself even to laugh. His heart was sick, and he only laughed because he did not know what to speak of. Her words aroused a painful melancholy in him, and yet he listened with deep interest, and finally said thoughtfully:

"I did not believe that such things happened in your set?"

"Things, my dear, are the same everywhere."

"You don't mind much, do you? Why do you look so cross?"

Ilya stood in the doorway and looked fixedly at her, wrinkling his brow. She went up to him, put her hands on his shoulders, and looked into his face curiously.

"I'm not cross," said Ilya seriously.

"Really? Oh! thank you—ha! ha! ha! how good you are!" She laughed brightly.

"I was only thinking," said Ilya, speaking slowly—"It's all quite right, what you say—but there's something bad in it too."

"Oho! What a touchy person you are! Something bad, eh? What then—explain to me!"

But he could not. He himself did not understand what it was in her words that displeased him. Olympiada had often spoken, more simply, more plainly; but her words had never given him the pain of soul that he felt from the chatter of this pretty little bird. He pondered all day obstinately on the strange feeling of discomfort that had arisen in his heart through this new intimacy, so flattering to his vanity, and he could not arrive at the source of the sensation.

When he came home that night, Kirik met him in the kitchen, and said in a friendly way:

"I say, Ilya, Tanyusha did some cooking to-day—meat pasties—I tell you, it seemed almost a pity to eat them! Almost as bad as eating living nightingales. I've left a plateful for you, brother. Hang up your box, sit down, and see what you will see."

Ilya looked at him conscience-stricken, and said with a forced laugh:

"Thank you, Kirik Nikodimovitch." Then he added, with a sigh: "You're a good fellow, by Jove!"

"What," answered Kirik, "a plate of pasty—that's nothing! No, brother, if I were chief of police—then you might perhaps thank me, but I'm not. I shall give up the police altogether, and start as agent or manager in a big business. A manager, that's something like a good position; if I get it I'll soon get a little capital together."

Tatiana was busy at the stove and singing softly. Ilya looked at her, and again felt a painful discomfort; but almost immediately the sensation vanished under the influence of new impressions and cares. During these days he had no time to give to brooding; the arrangement of the shop and the purchase of goods occupied him entirely, and from day to day amidst his work he grew accustomed to this woman, almost without knowing, like a drunkard to the taste of brandy. She pleased him more and more as a mistress, although her caresses often caused him shame, even anxiety; her caresses and her talk together slowly destroyed his respect for her as a woman. Every morning after she had seen her husband off to work, or in the evenings when he was on duty, she called Ilya to her or came into his room, and told him all sorts of stories "of real life;" and all her stories were curiously vicious, as though they related to a country inhabited only by liars and scoundrels of both sexes, whose greatest pleasure lay in adultery.

"Is that all true?" asked Ilya gloomily. He didn't want to believe, but felt helpless and unable to contradict.

He listened, and life seemed to him like a swill-tub, and men moving in it like worms.

"Ugh!" he said wearily, "is there nothing clean or true anywhere?"

"What d'you call true? What d'you mean?" asked Tatiana in surprise.

"Why, something honourable!" cried Lunev angrily.

"Why, it's honourable people I'm speaking of—how funny you are! I don't make it all up."

"That's not what I mean. Is there anywhere anything honourable—pure, or not?"

She did not understand and laughed at him. Sometimes her conversation took a different tone; looking at him with greenish eyes, darting an uncanny fire, she asked him:

"Tell me, what was your first experience of women?"

Ilya was ashamed of the memory, it was hateful to him. He turned away from the glance of his mistress, and said in a low reproachful voice:

"What horrid things you ask! I think you ought to be ashamed—men don't even speak like that with one another."

But she laughed happily, and went on talking till Lunev often felt defiled with her words as with pitch. But if she read in his face any hostile feeling, or perceived in his eyes any weariness, or distress, or sorrow, she knew how to kindle his desire afresh and banish by her caresses all feelings hostile to her influence.

One day when Ilya returned from the shop, where already the joiners were putting in the shelves, he saw to his astonishment, Matiza in the kitchen. She was sitting at the table, her big hands folded in her lap, and conversing with the mistress of the house, who was standing by the hearth.

"Here," said Tatiana, and nodded at Matiza, "this lady has been waiting for you, for ever so long."

"Good evening!" said Matiza, and got up clumsily.

"Why," cried Ilya, "are you still living?"

"Even pigs don't eat dirty bits of wood," answered Matiza in her deep voice.

Ilya had not seen her for a long time, and looked at her now with mingled feelings of compassion and pleasure. She was dressed in ragged fustian, an old faded kerchief covered her head, her feet were bare. She moved with difficulty, but supporting herself with her hands on the wall, she crept slowly into Ilya's room, sat heavily in a chair, and spoke in a hoarse toneless voice:

"I shall soon die. You see, I can hardly move my feet, and when I can't walk, I can't find food, and then I must die."

Her face was horribly bloated and covered with dark flecks. The big eyes were hardly visible between the swollen lids.

"What are you looking at?" she said to Ilya. "You think some one has struck me? No, it is a disease, devouring me."

"What are you doing?"

"I sit by the church door and beg for coppers," said Matiza, indifferently, in her deep, resonant voice. "I'm come on business. I heard from Perfishka that you were living here, and so I came."

"May I give you some tea?" asked Lunev. It hurt him to hear Matiza's voice and see her big, slack body perishing visibly.

"The devil wash his tail in your tea! Give me five kopecks, do! I came to you—well, you can ask me why."

Speech was difficult. She breathed short, and an overpowering odour came from her.

"Well, why?" asked Ilya, turning away and remembering how he had insulted her once.

"Do you remember Mashutka? What? You've a poor memory! You've grown rich!"

"I remember, of course I remember," said Ilya quickly.

"What's the good of your remembering?" she interrupted. "Has that made her life any easier?"

"What's the matter with her? How is she getting on?"

Matiza's head swayed, and she said briefly:

"She hasn't hanged herself yet."

"Oh, speak out!" cried Ilya roughly. "What do you begin at me for? You sold her yourself for three roubles."

"I don't reproach you, only myself," she answered quietly and emphatically, then began to tell of Masha, choking with the exertion.

"Her old husband is jealous and torments her, he lets her go nowhere, not even into the shop. She sits in one room, and mayn't go into the courtyard without leave. He's got rid of his children somehow, and lives alone with Masha. He pinches her and ties her hands, he treats her so badly because his first wife was untrue, and the two children are not his. Masha has run away twice, but both times the police have brought her back, and the old man pinches her and starves her for it. See, what a life!"

"Yes, you and Perfishka did a good deed," said Ilya gloomily.

"I thought it was better," said the woman, in her toneless voice. Her face motionless as though carved in stone, and her dead voice, weighed on Ilya.

"I thought—it was cleaner so. But the worse would have been better. She might have been sold to a rich man, he would have given her a home and clothes, and everything, and afterwards she would have sent him off and lived like all the others. Ever so many live like that."

"Well, why have you come to me?" asked Ilya.

"You live here, in a policeman's house. You see, they always catch her. Tell him to let her go, let her run away. She'll manage somehow. Is one not allowed to run away?"

"You really came for that?"

"Yes, why not? They ought not to stop her, tell them!"

"Ah, you people!" cried Ilya, trying to think what he could do for Masha.

Matiza rose from her chair, and shuffled carefully over the floor. She sighed and groaned, and she was not like a human being walking, but like an old, decayed tree falling slowly down.

"Good-bye! We shan't meet again! I shall soon die," she murmured. "Thank you, thank you, my fine, trim fellow! Thank you!"

As soon as she was gone, Tatiana hurried into Ilya's room, embraced him, and asked smiling:

"That's the one—your first love, eh?"

"Who?" asked Ilya slowly, absorbed in memories of Masha.

"That horror——"

Ilya unclasped her hands from his neck, and said moodily:

"She can hardly drag one foot after the other, but she cares for those she loves."

"Whom does she love?" asked the woman, and looked with wonder and curiosity at Ilya's anxious face.

"Wait, Tatiana, wait! Don't make fun of her."

He told her briefly of Masha, and asked: "What is to be done?"

"Here, nothing," answered Tatiana, shrugging her shoulders. "By the law, the wife belongs to her husband, and no one has any right to take her from him." And, with the important air of one who knows the law well and is convinced of its stability, she explained at length that Masha must obey her husband.

"She must just hang on for the present. Let her wait—he's old; he'll soon die. Then she'll be free, and all his money will go to her. And then you'll marry the rich young widow, eh?"

She laughed and continued to instruct Ilya seriously.

"It would be best for you to give up your old acquaintances. They're no use to you now, and they might get in your way. They're all so coarse and dirty—that one, for instance, you lent money to—such a skinny fellow, with wicked eyes."


"Yes. What funny names common people have—Gratschev, Lunev, Petuchev, Skvarzov.—In our set the names are much better, prettier—Avtonomov, Korsakov—my father's name was Florianov. When I was a young girl I was courted by a lawyer, Gloriantov. Once at the skating, he stole my garter, and threatened to make a scandal if I did not go to his house to get it back——"

Ilya listened, remembering his own past. He felt his soul bound by invisible threads fast to the house of Petrusha Filimonov, and it seemed this house would always hold him back from the peaceful life he longed for.

Return to the Three Men Summary Return to the Maxim Gorky Library

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson